Monday, May 23, 2005

Protecting Judges From Criticism!!?

Last week, Federal Judge Joan Lefkow, whose husband and mother were brutally murdered in their home earlier this year, testified in congress for better protection of Federal judges (LRR). Among other things, she asked for the government to pay for installing security systems in judges' homes.

Now, I am all in favor of providing better security for judges. I would have no problem with the government providing judges with home security systems, or even personal bodyguards for that matter. Furthermore, I think that anyone convicted of attacking a judge, or attempting or even plotting an attack, should receive a mandatory life sentence, period. I think that actually killing a judge might be one of the rare instances which might justify the death penalty. Why? Because an attack on a judge is, in essence, an attack on society and civilization itself.

But Judge Lefkow, in her remarks to Congress last week, went beyond denouncing outright attacks on judges, saying:
In this age of mass communication, harsh rhetoric is truly dangerous," she said. "It seems to me that even though we cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship between rhetorical attacks on judges in general and violent acts of vengeance by a particular litigant, the fostering of disrespect for judges can only encourage those who are on the edge or on the fringe to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them.

She then characterized remarks critical of activist judges, by christian conservatives such as Pat Robertson, as "lesser attacks" which are also dangerous.

I thought this aspect of Judge Lefkow's remarks problematic, but I was prepared to let them go. After all, I can't fault her for being sensitive to attacks on judges. But in today's Chicago Tribune, another pundit weighs in, demanding greater protection for judges, and compares those critical of judicial activism to racist extremists and the crazed killer of Judge Lefkow's family:
Recently our judges have been endangered not only by litigants and racist ideologues like Matthew Hale, who was convicted of soliciting Lefkow's murder. They have come under attack by people who ought to know better.

Prominent members of Congress have launched intemperate and personal attacks against individual judges and against the judiciary in general, holding them responsible for rulings with which they disagree--rulings about abortion, the right to die and same-sex marriage, for example. Most recently Christian Coalition founder and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson, on a national talk show, compared judges to terrorists.

So now, criticizing a judge's decisions, or the tendency of some judges to engage in activism from the bench, is the same as plotting a judge's murder. And notice the issues the author lists: abortion, "right-to-die", and same-sex marriage. If you're one of the benighted rubes who think that suctioning a baby out of its mother's womb is wrong, or that starving and dehydrating an innocent woman is inhuman, and that marriage is by its nature something between a man and a woman, then you are a problem. Any minute now, you're going to descend on courthouses in bible-thumping mobs, demanding judges' heads.

As I said before, I'm all in favor of protecting judges, and of severe punishments on those who actually attack them. But this op-ed is a not-very-thinly veiled attempt to use Judge Lefkow's tragedy to advance an ideological agenda. And to protect judges we don't need to turn them into a special mandarin class who are beyond all criticism.